Snowy Flurries

For some, changing colors on trees or shrubs provide a first hint of the coming fall. Here on the upper Texas coast, autumn arrives differently, flying in on the wings of migrating birds.

Teal arrive first, followed closely by peripatetic mallards. Last week, the calls of returning osprey began echoing across Galveston Bay. Yesterday I realized the swallows had flown away, but their space soon will be filled by an assortment of geese, raptors, and cranes.

A snowy egret (Egretta thula) shows off its ‘golden slippers’ as it prepares to land

While snowy egrets stay with us throughout the year, their numbers increase in the fall as birds return to their favored coastal marshes, inland mudflats, agricultural land, and drainage ditches.

Like the proverbial birds of a feather, they roost and nest together; last weekend I found a large flock hidden away along a canal in the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge.

Touching down

Sometimes referred to as ‘Golden Slippers’ because of their yellow feet, egrets also have yellow lores (the area between their bill and their eyes), which change to a deeper salmon or pinkish-orange during the breeding season.

Showing off, perhaps?

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, their plumes sold for nearly twice the cost of gold, and were used to decorate women’s hats. Inevitably, they were hunted nearly to extinction, but after the passage of laws meant to protect them, their numbers increased. Today, they’re a common sight: their golden slippers worth as much as any gold, and their developing plumes a hint of courtships to come.


Comments always are welcome. Click any image for a larger, more detailed view.


63 thoughts on “Snowy Flurries

    1. It’s good to see water back in the ponds and ditches, and even better to see the birds coming back. The egrets and herons are among my favorites, and I was pleased to find these.

      1. On quite a different note: before I discovered your blog here, I had never come across the word “lagniappe”. But a concidence now: I’m reading Gwen Bristow’s “Louisiana Trilogy” and find it used there quite frequently in the third volume, “This Side of Glory”.

        1. It’s one of my favorite words, and I learned it in Louisiana. It’s not at all ‘old-fashioned.’ Spend more than a day in Cajun country, or New Orleans, and you’re sure to hear it spoken.

    1. You’ve reminded me of the saying that’s no less true for being attributed all over the place: “Easy reading is hard writing”. It’s as true as the answer to that old question about how to get to Carnegie Hall.

      My favorite subtle detail in the first photo is the reflection from the water on the bird’s body and on the underside of the wing behind its head.

    1. We’re lucky to have them throughout the year, but they tend to be fewer in number and less frequently seen during the summer. It surprised me that they’ve made it to upstate NY, but the Cornell range map shows them as a migrant in southern NY and breeding in Massachusetts, so it makes sense that they made it to your home turf. Even though they’re quite common here, they’re still fun to watch — as you know.

      The map shows them in the Green Bay area, too — along Lake Michigan. You may well get to see them in your new neighorhood: if not this fall, at least next year when they return to the area to breed.

    1. Of course I thought of the song, and when I looked, I found an old recording by Vernon Dalhart. That name seemed familiar, so I looked him up. Sure enough, his birth name was Marion Try Slaughter, but he took the stage name from the Panhandle towns Vernon and Dalhart. He punched cattle in the area in the 1890s.

      He signed with Edison records after being auditioned by Edison himself.

      Take a look at the photo that shows up in the video at about 2:05. Wouldn’t you love to know the story behind that one?

    1. Thanks, Vicki. We’ve had two or maybe three sunny days in September, so I was glad to be able to get away and check out some of my favorite haunts on one of those days. There’s been so much rain that the ponds are full and the grasses are thick and rich — it’s going to be a good fall for the birds, and for those of us who do enjoy watching them.

  1. Such beautiful colors and image sharpness. The sun always accentuates detail and makes for a crisp image. It also picks up the blues from the sky. Try to get this color and sharpness on a cloudy day and it’s nearly impossible. Great handling of the whites too. Wonderful Linda!

    I think the spiky feathered crest may be part of a courtship gesture, although this egret seems to have a longer crest than other egrets. My favorite is the 2nd image because the wings and crest are spectacular! All of them are great though.

    1. You’re right about how difficult it can be to get decent bird photos on a cloudy day. Because our waters tend to be muddy even on the best days, the combination of gray skies and murky water can make it especially hard to capture details.

      In these photos, the crests were raised because there was a little territorial squabbling going on. The birds were busy chasing each other away from chosen spots, and every time one made a move toward another, up would come the crest.

      In the second photo, you can see that his breeding plummage is beginning to develop at the bottom of his neck. None that I saw have the long back and tail plumes yet. I think it’s just a little early.The great blue herons and yellow or black crowned night herons haven’t developed head plumes yet, and I haven’t seen any color change in lores. But the snowy and great white egrets have started to roost together in a local spot that’s been favored for years: a tree-lined drainage ditch that’s across from a parking lot. Once I became interested in birds, I realized why the road that runs parallel to the ditch is called Egret Bay Drive.

      1. I used to follow a Great White Heron around for taking pictures and sometimes it was really shadowed at the botanical garden so I had to use flash. It never bothered the heron and I was able to get good light and details that way. The Snowy Egret used to be less common. However, when I first saw the Anhinga open its wings for the first time I fell in love. They are very common in Florida and don’t live in P.R. at all.

  2. I wonder how names are arrived at? Egret just needs another consonant and it changes completely from a bird’s name to a verb or even a noun. I wish I knew more about how languages are formed and where words originate from. Amazing to think the world has so many different languages. I am straying from your lovely photos of the egret, Linda.

    Birds always seem to have such sharp and intelligent expressions on their faces. I have never seen a dumb looking bird. When they move from flight to touch-down many decisions have to be made quickly. They have to land safely and on both feet. Does ‘regret’ come from an egret having made a bad landing?

    No wonder they look so smart.

    1. As it happens, Gerard, I know a cruising boat that’s named “No Egrets.” It’s a fun play on words that echoes your point about the difference that a consonant can make — and everyone who sees the name knows intuitively what the boat owners are saying about their chosen lifestyle: they don’t have a single regret.

      According to the American Heritage dictionary, the word egret comes “from Middle English, from Old French aigrette, from Old Provençal aigreta, from aigron, heron, of Germanic origin.” The long breeding plumes came to be called aigrettes, and they were used on decorative headdresses. Eventually, jeweled aigrettes resembling plumes became decoration for turbans, and then accessories for royalty.

      I have seen a few ungraceful landings, but never a disastrous one. I suppose that helps to minimize the regrets — and they surely are fun to watch.

            1. No question. And you’ve reminded me of a story.

              A young male tern fell in love. Unfortunately, he fell in love with a seagull, and his mother was distraught. “Why are you hanging around with her?” Mama asked. The young tern had quite a list of reasons: attractiveness, personality, her ability to catch shrimp as well as fish.

              Mama still wasn’t convinced, and tried to argue her case. Finally, in exasperation, she pleaded one last time for him to stick with his own kind. “After all,” she said. “One good tern deserves another.”

  3. These are such lovely photos, Linda. The snowy egret is one of my favorites among the cranes, herons, and egrets. Thank goodness it was saved in time before it was hunted to extinction. It’s plumes are indeed magnificent.

    1. I remember you commenting on your affection for these birds, and it’s certainly well-placed. They’re not only beautiful, their behavior’s interesting to watch. It is good that people finally got smart about preserving the species. Every time I see one — or a brown pelican — it’s a reminder that we can make a difference.

      Now, I need to get out and see if I can’t get a decent photo or two of the little green herons. It’s about time for them to leave, so I’d better hurry.

  4. I love the pretty, poofed head! I cringe when I think of the numbers of birds that were killed so that ladies’ hats were adorned. Sniff. Your photos do this gorgeous bird justice; I especially like that last one, he really does look quite pleased with himself.

    1. Well, it was a different time, with radically different attitudes. The buffalo suffered the same fate; at least today more people are willing to involve themselves in efforts to save disappearing species. As I mentioned to Yvonne, just above, every time I see a brown pelican I smile.

      As for the bird seeming pleased with himself: you bet. He just ran off another bird that was trying to move in on his space!

    1. Thanks, Terry. I’m glad to see more of them arriving in the area, and I was even more happy to have a day with sunshine to take a few photos. No matter how beautiful the birds, they just don’t show to best effect with cloudy skies and dim days.

    1. It’s always nice when a photo shoot goes well, and I’m always happy when I can get a few nice images from a whole clutch of not so nice ones. These birds make great subjects, and it’s always interesting to watch their behavior.

    1. After Rob mentioned seeing them in upstate NY, I looked at the range map, and noticed that they tend to hug the coast in your area. That makes sense, given their preferred diet. Even here, where they can be found well inland, they tend to follow the bayous or show up in rice fields and other areas where water collects. There’s one that’s been hanging out on the dock lines of a boat I was working on. I always know when he’s managed to have crab for dinner — he’s not good about cleaning up after himself.

  5. The Snowy Egrets are a favorite of mine, and those yellow slippers play a role in making them special. The yellow would not be as dramatic if the ‘stockings’ were gray – that dark black is also important in making the attire so attractive! The elegant plumes, of course, upgrade them to ‘best dressed’ – especially when they’re lining the shrimp ponds during a harvest.

    An osprey was patrolling Lake Chicot when I spent an afternoon with all three sisters on the lake – two weeks ago. Those migratory birds should start trickling down here soon – perhaps they’re here and waiting for me to give them a proper greeting!

    The sun was again late for the noon equinox photo moment. straight-down noon shadow as about ten minutes past noon…. go figure!

    1. That’s funny, re: the equinox sun. If you can’t depend on the sun, who can you depend on?

      The ospreys are back in force now, circling and calling above the lake. They love to sit atop masts, so their musical calls are part of my day. I had to laugh when our clutch of migrating mallards showed up in my marina. It’s a large group — maybe thirty or more — and there always have been two or three with distinctive black and white chest markings that suggest someone was messing around with the Muscovys. This year when they rolled in, there were at least a dozen with the black and white markings. I’d love to know how the genetics on that was working: whether the black and white is a dominant trait, and exactly who’s been mating with whom.

      Your mention of the shrimp farms reminds me of a shrimp boat I often see coming down our channel. There’s always a boy or two culling from the tanks on the stern deck, and there’s always a line of egrets perched on the rails and rigging, just waiting to snatch a sweet treat.

      1. A friend and I are having a cyber spat about the sun being late.. he states that it’s b/c i am not on the direct 0=0=0 latitude and don’t have a sextant. well the date has eased on by, but i’ll be armed and ready for more-scientific experiments starting around march 15 — with witnesses to help watch the changes!

    1. Our hummingbirds finally are heading south: gathering down the coast where they’ll wait for a good north wind to help carry them across the Gulf of Mexico. Impressive as that is, the godwits are even more so. There’s something so touching about those mysterious, marvelous migrations. I did have to smile at the conclusion of the article you linked: “new arrivals can be distinguished from those that have spent the winter in Christchurch by their red feathering and tattered plumage.” No kidding. Sometimes I see butterflies that are so tattered I don’t understand how they still can fly, but they manage it.

      The whooping crane migration has begun, and the good news is that there are more birds this year. The raptors are coming through, too. From time to time especially large groups will appear, and our National Weather Service will post time-lapse radar images of them.

    1. The animated map is great. I’m in the central flyway, of course, but I’m told there can be crossover between the central and Mississippi flyways. It makes sense. Birds fly where they will, and we observe. It’s much the same with flowers. Saying, “That’s not supposed to be here” doesn’t make much sense. It’s better to ask, “Why is this here, when it usually isn’t?”

  6. What stunning creatures! And how blessed we are that you had such a deep blue sky background, perfect for showing off this egret’s plumage! That last photo looks as if he/she had used a blow dryer to pouf up its head feathers! I’d never heard about their golden slippers, but what a perfect name for its feeties!

    1. I laughed at the thought of these birds all lined up in a salon, getting those feathers blow-dried. Who’s to say what happens when we’re not looking? However, there are days when the wind does a pretty good job of blow-drying, itself.

      We haven’t had a nice, clear day since I took these photos, so I’m glad to have had the chance. We’re back to rain and thunderstorms now, so I’m trying to make good use of my time at home — when the rain finally moves out, I’m going to have to struggle to go back to work instead of heading out into the great outdoors. At least I get to work in the great outdoors!

      I like those yellow feet, too. During the breeding season, they seem to brighten up even more — it’s such fun to see the changes.

    1. Isn’t it fun to find one when the background’s uncluttered enough to really show them off? On this day, it would have been enough to find some sunshine, so finding the birds was a beyond-expected treat. She reminded me of your new residents at the ditch this year.

    1. In this case, the protective measures really worked, and they’re quite common now. As for ospreys — they’re wheeling in now, calling back and forth and picking out their territories for the winter. Since I’m close to the lake, I see one now and then from my desk, and yesterday the first one flew by. It’s always an assurance that autumn really is on the way, however slowly it’s moving.

    1. I am, indeed. And they’re more nearby than you might imagine. I have both a snowy egret and a great egret that like to fish right next to the boat I’m currently working on: the snowy from the dock lines, and the great from the dock itself. They clearly become impatient with my comings and goings, but they never fly far, and always come back.

  7. It’s been so nice to have sun again – the birds are singing and they are out gliding around. Molly stood stock still watching a flock on their way to Galveston as they went over the house and street. She’s a real bird watcher, too.
    I can’t believe how you manage to catch these birds – landing and with headgear fluffed so beautifully.
    That camera/lens is worth it!

    1. You bet that camera and that lens have been worth it. I swallowed hard when I shelled out the money for the lens, especially, but it’s not only helped with bird photos, it’s been useful for flowers, too (remember those red cacti in the rocks, and the sunflowers twining through the burned shrubs at the refuge?).

      The fluffed up feathers were due partly to aggression. There was a lot of territorial squabbling going on, and everyone knows that fluffed feathers help to make a fellow look more impressive — just as Dixie Rose’s tail would increase in size by a factor of about four whenever she was startled or afraid.

      1. Ha – I forgot about the territorial thing. Or maybe he thought you were worth impressing. Equipment validating shot anyway. What a handsome guy
        (A large blue heron gifted Molly a feather a day ago while swooping low directly over us – it slowly spiraled down – worthy of a movie shot. She let me carry it home – to keep it dry HAHA)

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